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John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Snapshot: Circa 1909 (for string quartet) (2003)
G Schirmer Inc
Works for 2-6 Players
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
6 Minutes

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Programme Note
John Corigliano Snapshot: Circa 1909 (for string quartet) (2003)
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Composer Note:


When the Elements Quartet asked me to write a piece inspired by a photograph, I immediately thought of one I have had since I was a child. It was taken in Greenwich Village in my grandparents' Sullivan Street apartment, which I have only seen in photos.

The photographer came to do a group shot of my grandparents, whom I never met, and their six children. After taking that picture, the photographer was coaxed into doing a shot of my father and his brother Peter performing on violin and guitar.

The picture has never ceased to move me. My father looked about eight years old, wearing knickers and earnestly bowing his violin, while my uncle, then a teenager, held a guitar in an aristocratic position and stared at the camera.

In the short quartet inspired by the photo, the second violin plays a nostalgic melody, while the other strings pluck their instruments in a guitar-like manner. This solo is obviously the boy violinist singing through his instrument.

After the melody is completed, however, the first violin enters, muted, in the very highest register. In my mind, he was playing the dream that my eight-year-old father must have had — of performing roulades and high, virtuosic, musing passages that were still impossible for him to master.

This young violinist grew into a great soloist — my father, John Corigliano, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for over a quarter century. He, as an adult, performed the concerti and solos that as a child he could only imagine.

The two violins, boy and dream, join together at the end as the guitar sounds play on.

— John Corigliano

  • Ensemble
    Corigliano Quartet
    Michael Jinsoo Lim and Lina Bahn, violins; Jeffrey Zeigler, cello; Melia Watras, viola
Snapshots: Circa 1909 World Premiere recording String Quartet A Black November Turkey Corigliano Quartet Naxos CD 8559180 … In the five-movement String Quartet No. 1, the players vividly illuminate Corigliano’s varied sonic landscapes, from the anguished microtonal moan that opens the work through the slashing chords and mournful melodies of the Scherzo and the hypnotic, exotic counterpoint of the Nocturne to the stark, dissonant counterpoint of the Fugue. The disc opens with the beautifully yearning Snapshot: Circa 1909,inspired by a photograph of Corigliano’s father, who was also named John and eventually became concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, at about 8, playing the violin and standing next to his older brother, who is playing the guitar. An evocative violin melody soars over guitarlike strumming, and the work fades away with a dreamy, delicate melody played in the highest violin register…
Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times,17/06/2007
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